02 May 2009

Roman coins (3rd-4th century A.D.) found in the U.S.

In 1963, a construction engineer found a small hoard of coins while excavating the north bank of the Ohio River during construction of the Sherman Minton Bridge... The coins were grouped as though they had originally been in a leather pouch that had long since disintegrated.

The discoverer kept most of the hoard for himself, but gave two of the coins to another engineer on the project. In 1997, the second engineer's widow brought these two to Troy McCormick, then manager of the new Falls of the Ohio Museum in Clarksville, Ind., not far from the find site. She donated them to the museum, where they remain today.

McCormick identified the smaller coin from a guide to Roman coins as a bronze of Claudius II, from 268 A.D. The larger coin has been identified... as a follis of Maximinus II, from 312 or 313 A.D....

Unfortunately, the discoverer moved south to work on another bridge shortly after the find, and the second engineer's widow could not remember his name, so the bulk of the hoard is lost.

For several years, the Falls of the Ohio Museum had an exhibit about the find... the exhibit has recently been removed from public display, because the Museum belongs to the state of Indiana, and the exhibit conflicted with the state's archaeological policy that there is no documented evidence of pre-Columbian contacts.
Credit for text and images here, where there is additional information. Via the Ancient Waterways Society, an online Yahoo! group for persons interested in the diffusion of people, cultures, and goods through the ancient world. I founded the group about five years ago; it currently has about 50 members and an active message board (about 500 postings in the past year). It's free and open to anyone to browse.


  1. I don't get it, why would the museum remove them because "the exhibit conflicted with the state's archaeological policy that there is no documented evidence of pre-Columbian contacts."

    Those coins don't constitute such evidence in the first place, the only thing they prove is that there are still some roman coins in existence, and an American woman came to own them. Her story doesn't constitute proof of anything except that she can tell a story.

    Further, show me where any state makes policy regarding any science. Science is based on evidence and peer review. Evidence means more than a few coins and a hearsay tale.

  2. I would imagine that the museum removed the coin exhibit because its presence there might IMPLY that the museum was vouching for their provenance, whereas they really had none. The coins could have been brought to North America by voyagers from Roman times, by post-Columbus early immigrants, or by modern people. Without better documentation of their discovery, location when found etc., they lose most historical value.

    Re the policy-making, I believe its made more by archaeological societies and organizations (including by state societies and organizations) rather than by states per se - but I don't know that for a fact.

  3. Roman Coins from the 3rd and 4th century are plentiful. I've got a handful. You can buy them for less than $2 a piece (just google for them).

    I'm sure they were lost by a 20th century collector.

  4. Hi!
    In my country (Italy) you can see many representations of Ananas (which is of american origin and introduced in Asia only in modern times)in Roman paintings and Roman mosaics:
    -Mosaic of Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome, coming from Grotte Celoni
    -House "of the Efebo" in Pompei (identification of Ananas confirmed by US paleobotanic prof. E.D. Merril)
    -Frescos in National Archaelogical museum of Naples,
    and many others, still waiting an organic publication!
    We must remember that for a Roman sailing ship was easy to go from Morocco to central Africa (for ivory): oceanic currents from Canaries and winds from North East push ships to South. (The Romans knew this course: Pliny the Elder,which was admiral, clearly says in his "Naturalis Historia" that keeping Africa on your left you arrive to Arabia...)But for RETURNING from central Africa it was a great problem: you have winds and currents against you! The Spanish sailors of XVII century followed what they called the "volta pe lo largo": from central africa coast they shipped to SW in Atlantic, then to N and NE; in this way they found currents and wings easily carrying to Azores ("Fortunatae Insulae" for Romans). This course carried Spanish ships very closer to american coasts, and sometimes a storm pushed them to south america!
    Did Romans know the course "volta pe lo largo" ???
    It's probable, and it's also probable that they learned it from Carthaginians and Celts (see Caesar's description of Veneti's enormous antlantic ships in his "De Bello Gallico")
    Explorations and commerce was very common in antiquity: an ancient chinese document relate about a Marcus Aurelius embassy to chinese emperor; sandal wood used in Rome came from Indonesia; in Pompei a house was called "of the Jada statue" because of a Thai jada sculpture found during archaeological excavation.
    In "New Scientist" of February 2000
    you find the article relating how the terracotta Roman sculpture found in 1933 in Mexico City, supposed a forgery, has been analised by the Max Plank Institute of Heidemberg (Germany) and dated with thermoluminescence proceeding to year 200(about)of our era.
    Ancient civilisations, Carthaginians, Celts, Romans, probably visited American continent but the course "volta pe lo largo" was forgotten in Middle Age. If you are skeptic that such important things could be forgotten in Middle Age, look this:


    ciao! Marco

  5. I was very curious to see the depiction of a pineapple in the mosaic at the Palazzo Massimo. It seems most unlikely that the Romans knew how to grow pineapples and yet not write about them. The coins are certainly no proof that they ever reached America, and even if they did somehow manage to travel to South America, the pineapples would have been inedible by the time they arrived. Are you suggesting that they were cultivated in Africa?
    I would be very interested to see other Roman depictions of pineapples that you mention.

  6. " It seems most unlikely that the Romans knew how to grow pineapples and yet not write about them"

    Remember that only a very little part of ancient literature came to us, so it is no strange they don't mention the pineapple.
    For example, no ancient author wrote a single line about lemon trees (imported in Rome from India), but they are represented in many frescoes and mosaics, and recently paleobotanists found the evidence of their presence in Pompeian gardens. One of these gardens, with lemons, was recreated following the seeds that was found: http://www.pompeiisites.org/Sezione.jsp?titolo=ricreato%20il%20prato%20della%20villa%20imperiale%20ad%20oplontis&idSezione=2103

    The Romans imported many plants from Eastern world: lemons, oranges (the 'malum medicum' was a medicinal fruit for Plinius), cherries, apricots, etc, so they surely had the knowledge for transporting trees by sea.

    In the mosaic of the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, the pineapple is clearly visible:


    The problem about exotic fruits in roman representations is very old: it was raised for the first time by Prof. Domenico Casella of Naples University in 1940s. The study continued until the 1950s, with the certain identifications of lemon, orange, lime, mango, sugar-apple and pineapple. Two important paintings representing some of this fruits are in the Archeological Museum of Naples (catalog number 8641 for mango and 8525 for sugar-apple)

    It's pretty certain that all this plants were cultivated in the private gardens of the richest inhabitants of Campania, italian region whose climate is warm enough and has a lot of water.
    These fruits were surely so rare and distinctive of a high social condition to deserve their appearance in frescoes and mosaics!

  7. Very interesting. Thank you, anon.

  8. Thanks to you, Minnesotastan!
    I forgot to add that in the mosaic of the Palazzo Massimo (see link in my previous post) the fruit behind/above the pineapple is not still certainly identified...



  9. It looks a little like a skinned pomegranate.

  10. "It looks a little like a skinned pomegranate"

    True, but it's green, maybe it is an "Annona Squamosa"?

    I found an old but visible reproduction of the fresco from the Ephebe's house in Pompeii where the pineapple is visible on an altar:

    The fruit, with a milk cup, is offered as sacrifice to the snakes, which weren't seen as 'negative' animals in the ancient world (e.g. see Aesculapius and Demetra cults or the serpent Agathodaimon)

    An other representation is in the mosaic named 'a gladiator' in the National Museum of Naples, where is depicted a cock eating some fruits and among them, a pineapple. But I couldn't find a good reproduction.

    Anyway, I agree that all these clues together (coin finds, American fruits in roman artworks) don't make a proof but only a suggestive probability...

    In favor of this probability I would like to remember Iulius Caesar's words in "De Bello Gallico" in chap 3.13, where, telling about atlantic ships of Gauls:
    '...for neither could our ships injure theirs with their beaks (so great was their strength)...'
    and in 3.14:
    '...they (-the roman sailors-) knew that damage could not be done by their beaks; and that, although turrets were built [on our decks], yet the height of the stems of the barbarian ships exceeded these..."

    The question is: the Gauls had such strong and enormous ships to go where...?

    Maybe that one day an ancient shipwreck will be found along American coasts, who knows...:)


  11. For All interested in Roman and other ancient coins found in North America:
    Please read Saga America, by Barry Fell

    Although it may be out of print, it should be easy to find on amazon.

    Dr Fell documents numerous finds ancient coins found in America, some, dating to the colonial era.

    Regards, jon

  12. Does this mean that romans were here then and could have been befor and everything we know now may have been known millions of years befor and time its self plays out the same basics roles as a planet and species all rolled in one ultamite chaos we know as life in genral.

  13. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/03/11/392326270/u-s-college-finds-priceless-coin-collection-in-its-own-library?utm_source=tumblr.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150311


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